Why Leaders Shouldn't Lead Brainstorming Sessions
Here's one of the dirty little secrets of corporate brainstorm sessions: When they are led by upper management, department heads, or project leaders, they usually get manipulated.
Because honchos and honchettes are so heavily invested in the topic being brainstormed, it is common for them to bend the collective genius of the group to their own particular point of view.
Not a good idea.
Participants -- out of respect for the expertise (or position or parking space) of the facilitator -- will invariably moderate their input. The results? Same old same old.
That's why brainstorm facilitators need to remain neutral.
Not neutral like vague. Neutral like free of any pre-determined concept or outcome.
An open window, not an empty suit.
A facilitator's role is to facilitate (from the Latin word meaning "to make easy") the process whereby brilliance manifests -- not use their platform to foist their ideas on others.
In the best of all worlds, brainstorm facilitators wouldn't be the people who care the most about the topic. They wouldn't be the content expert, team leader, department head, senior officer, or anyone whose job is described by a three-letter acronym.
There's a HUGE difference between facilitating and leading a brainstorming session. Leaders get people to follow them. Facilitators get people to follow the yellow brick road of their own imagination.
Here are four classic ways that some brainstorm facilitators manipulate the ideation process. Any of them familiar to you?
1. They verbally judge ideas as they are presented
2. They scribe only the ideas they approve of
3. They spend more time pitching their own ideas than listening to the ideas of others
4. They develop only ideas consistent with their own assumptions
Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at August 9, 2012 11:18 PM
The difficulty is finding a facilitator who is familiar enough with the project being discussed that they know what is relevant and what is a time-consuming tangent. In my experience, discussions lead by people with no interest in what is being discussed often are not conclusive or helpful. It is possible to use project management software (I like Clarizen, http://www.clarizen.com/ProjectManagementSoftware.aspx for its easy collaboration features) to familiarize a neutral facilitator with the project and its issues so that they can lead a discussion to being a productive session.
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